As a lifelong fan of horror movies, I thought I would spend some time talking about the connection between the genre and intimacy.
First, let me get a few things out of the way: Scream is my favorite franchise (closely followed by Halloween), I DETEST demon/possession movies, I am onboard with horror/comedies, and I have never seen The Exorcist (see above for reasons why), but I plan to this summer. Now that I got that out of the way, let's talk more about sex.
When researching for this post, it was hard for me to narrow down what I wanted to talk about because the connection between horror movies and human sexuality is vast. Should I talk about the constant poor depiction of LGBTQ+ characters? Maybe I can explore the blatant sex-negative trope that exists in slasher films (i.e. if you have sex, you die)? Also, I feel like I could also spend a lifetime exploring the highs and many lows of the depiction of cis-female characters, but I will save that for another day. So for this post, I am sticking with why horror films tend to illicit a sexual response in people.
Think about the last time you watched a horror movie. For me, it was last Thursday. I tend to watch at least one horror movie a week. It helps me stay connected and up-to-date on the genre I love so much, but enough about me, how was that experience for you? Were you scared? How did it feel? My guess is if you did feel scared, you probably experienced one or more of the following: shortness of breath or an increase in breathing, a rapid heartbeat, a heightened sense of your surroundings, and/or an increase in blood pressure. This is all due to chemicals like cortisol, adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin being released.
Now, let's look at what happens during sexual arousal: increased heart rate, the release of adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin, escalated blood pressure, and rapid breathing. Sound familiar? Basically, being scared releases the same kind of chemicals in your body and produces the same physiological reactions as when you are sexually aroused.
Researchers have looked into this connection as well. This includes an interesting experiment back in 1974 which resulted in a group of men being more attracted to a beautiful woman after crossing a shaky suspension bridge than a control group. According to Joanne Cantor, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Wisconsin, "Being scared is physiologically arousing, and in the right company, it may eventually carry over to sexual arousal."
So what can happen if we are with someone we care about or have sexual feelings for? Quite simple: our feelings of arousal can become intertwined with being scared. When the release of cortisol and adrenaline is followed by the calming realization that you are with someone you’re interested in, oxytocin can be released. Oxytocin, also known as the "cuddling" hormone, can lead us to want to be intertwined with our partner and as they say, the rest is history.